In Harper Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird, why does Jem invite Walter Cummingham for lunch?

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carol-davis eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee, a new teacher has joined the school faculty.  Miss Caroline Fisher will be Scout’s first grade teacher.  Miss Caroline makes many mistakes her first day because she is new to teaching. 

Miss Caroline offers to lend Walter Cunningham money for his lunch.  She believes that he has just forgotten his money.  Scout has always been free to talk and say what comes to her mind.  In school, the rules change.  Scout knows that the Cunninghams have no money, and they do not like to owe money to other people.  When Scout tries to explain about Walter to Miss Caroline, the teacher punishes Scout.

Scout finds Walter on the playground and begins to beat him up.  Jem sees her and stops the fight.  He asks Walter to come home with them for lunch.  Scout does not understand why she should not be mad at Walter for causing her to be in trouble with the teacher.

It is obvious that Jem is moving toward maturity.  He understands the problems of the Cunninghams.  Atticus has done legal work for them.  Mr. Cunningham has always paid him, not with money but with goods from his land.  Jem also realizes that Walter cannot help from where he comes or what his parents do. He treats Walter with respect. 

Calpurnia is glad to have Walter eat lunch with them.  Walter covers his food with maple syrup at which point Scout makes a face and rudely comments on his eating habits.  She is sent from the table and scolded by Calpurnia.

“There is some folks who don’t eat like us, she whispered fiercely, but you ain’t called on to contradict ‘em at the table when they don’t. That boy’s yo’ company and if he wants to eat up the table cloth you let him, you hear?”

“He ain’t company, Cal, he’s just a Cunningham.”

“Hush your mouth! Don’t matter who they are, anybody sets foot in this house’s yo’comp’ny, and don’ you let me catch you remarking’ on their ways like you was so high and mighty!”

To further her understanding, Atticus teaches Scout one of the primary lessons of the story. A person should never criticize another person until he walks around in their shoes or looks at things from their perspective. This lesson will help Scout later in the novel when she tries to understand the unfair and ill treatment of others. 

user4309207 | Student

Chapter 3: In the schoolyard, Jem sees Scout beating up Walter. Jem stops her and invites Walter to dinner proabably because he felt sorry about how Scout was treating him.

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To Kill a Mockingbird

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